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Immigrants enrich us

Archbishop Wenski's column for January 2018 edition of Florida Catholic

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Migration is, more than anything, an act of great hope. Refugees flee their countries due to war and persecution, which inspires them to risk everything for a future of hope. Yet our brothers and sisters who are forced to migrate often suffer devastating family separation and many, especially those in an irregular status, often face dire economic conditions and daily fears of deportation. We witness the drama of migration every day. It is a drama that each of us has participated in one way or another, for immigration is a lived reality for all of us here in South Florida. Even those of us born in this country can find stories in our own families of parents, grandparents or great-grandparents leaving the “old country” for the promise of America.

Americans have a great national heritage of welcoming the newcomer. Fear and intolerance have occasionally tested that heritage and are testing it now in the halls of Congress, where restrictionist legislation has been proposed. Whether emigrating from Ireland, Italy or countless other countries, previous generations faced bigotry. Thanks be to God, our nation grew beyond those divisions to find strength in unity and inclusion. For the most part, we have kept dear the words of scripture, “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels” (Heb 13:2).

But today our immigration system is broken and this is evident in the large numbers of irregular immigrants who live, work and raise families here without a path to legal status and eventual citizenship. This is an intolerable situation because those whom some call “illegals” are themselves victimized by this broken system: lack of legal status renders them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. And while illegal immigration needs to be fixed, we must be careful not to demonize those who were drawn to this country in the hope of a better life for themselves and their children. Walls alone will provide no solution at least, not a solution worthy of America.

This month, Congress is taking up the plight of DACA recipients those undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as minors. They were beneficiaries of President Obama’s 2012 executive order, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA was a holding pattern, an executive order given by President Obama when the Senate failed to pass the “Dream Act.” It allowed certain undocumented immigrants to the United States who entered the country as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for employment.

Many of these children and their families are, understandably, distraught that DACA was rescinded by the new administration. Nevertheless, President Trump has promised a solution that will make people “happy and proud.” Let’s hope that he does so, for these “Dreamers” are American in their tastes, their language, and in their aspirations. They just do not have permanent legal status in the U.S. Granting permanent legal status to “dreamers” is the right thing to do it would certainly allow these young people to dream like Americans. (And another fix is desperately needed by Haitian and Central Americans whose TPS (Temporary Protective Status) is soon to expire.)

A solution to the DACA kids won’t fix our broken system. But a bipartisan solution to DACA is a good start to a broader and more comprehensive reform. Revitalizing America’s inner cities with infrastructure spending and rebooting the nation’s industrial capacity are bold promises made by the Trump administration. Tax reform, cutting down on the maze of business-killing regulation, fixing the spiraling costs of health care perhaps are all promises worth keeping by the administration. But right now, the only countries that are growing economically are countries that also have strong growth in immigration. Therefore, any “wall” built to keep out “illegals” must have sufficient doors to allow in a legal work force if future economic growth is to be sustainable.

America has always been a nation of immigrants. And the immigration experience continues to define the life of the Catholic Church in the U.S. as well as here in South Florida. For this reason, the U.S. Catholic Church observes National Migration Week every January. This observance begins with the feast of the Epiphany, which reminds us that God calls all peoples to salvation. In the Church, people of every race, language and ethnicity are embraced as brothers and sisters.

Like the Magi who came to Bethlehem bearing gifts, the immigrant brings many gifts to his or her new country. Our national motto, “E pluribus unum” (Out of many one), recognizes this rich diversity of peoples. Such diversity does not divide us sin does. Diversity does not divide us but rather this diversity has and will continue to enrich us all.

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